Alumni Return to Help Students
Make Most of Mercer Experience
Windsor, N.J. - For some Mercer graduates, their associate
degree is just the start of a long-term relationship with
the college. That's the case for three Mercer alumni who work
in the Student Activities Office: Danielle Garruba, Tina Young,
and Tatiana Dodge. Not surprisingly, all three were active
as Mercer students and are now intent on giving new groups
of students the social support, growth and leadership skills
that they developed as part of their college experience.
The Student Activities Office plans and implements programs
of social, cultural, recreational, and educational interest
for students -with the input and buy-in of students themselves.
The office hosts fall and spring orientation sessions, leadership
seminars, social events, and community service projects. In
recent years, students have organized fundraisers for many
activities are also on the calendar. Events have included
a Fall Festival, Winter Ball, nutrition workshops, fitness
classes, a video game tournament, and trips to see Broadway
Danielle Garruba '97 (A.A., Humanities and Social Science)
is the office's director, a post she has held for over a decade.
A graduate of McCorristin High School (now Trenton Catholic
Academy), Garruba decided to attend Mercer because of her
positive experience when she visited the campus as a high
was very friendly. I liked the feeling of being known by name
around campus," she said. "Mercer is a great school
for students who want to feel part of a community."
Garruba immersed herself in college life, serving on the Student
Activities Board from 1994-97. After graduating with honors,
she transferred to Rider University, where she earned her
bachelor's degree in psychology in 1999 and her master's degree
in counseling in 2002.
Student Activities staff, clockwise from top left, Administrative
Specialist Tatiana Dodge,Director Danielle Garruba and Events
Coordinator Tina Young. All are MCCC alum.
from Rider, Garruba returned to Mercer as an intern in the
Student Activities Office. A few months later, the director
retired and Garruba applied for the job. "I love working
with students and planning events," she said. "I
feel like it's my niche and it fits my personality."
As an alumna, Garruba draws from her own experiences to help
students discover the opportunities available at the college.
"With seven organizations and more than 50 clubs, Mercer
has a lot to offer. Students don't realize everything they
can become involved in here. It's a great college experience
at less than half the cost of many schools in New Jersey."
For Tina (Lestician) Young '04 (A.S., Communications),
Mercer started out as her back-up plan. A graduate of Hamilton
High School West, she was accepted to four colleges, but found
that MCCC's reasonable tuition just couldn't be matched. Young
embraced Mercer academically and socially, serving as the
president of the Student Activities Board and becoming well
acquainted with Garruba and all that the Student Activities
Office had to offer.
After graduating from Mercer, Young went on to receive her
bachelor's degree in Education and Psychology from Rider University.
She then began work as a pre-school teacher at the Catholic
Youth Organization (CYO) of Mercer County. She never lost
touch with Garruba, though, and volunteered as a facilitator
at Mercer's leadership conferences for three years. In 2011,
when the events coordinator position opened up, Young jumped
at the chance to return to her alma mater.
Young runs the Leadership, Education and Development (L.E.A.D)
program at Mercer, a new initiative that started in fall 2011.
L.E.A.D. offers MCCC students who participate in the college's
organizations and clubs an opportunity for personal growth
by fostering leadership, teamwork and community development.
According to Young, L.E.A.D. students get together three times
each month, twice to meet with a leadership coach who discusses
topics including personal growth, goal setting and being a
role model. Students also plan community service projects.
In March, they are celebrating Dr. Seuss' birthday with a
visit to CYO, the pre-school where Young worked. They will
read and interact with the children. Other spring projects
include a Penny War in April and a Walk-A-Thon in May to raise
funds for Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation.
L.E.A.D. students are also invited to participate in fall
and spring leadership conferences, as well as attend two seminars
per semester. At the end of the year students who have met
the L.E.A.D. requirements will be recognized with a certificate
and pin at an awards luncheon.
Young notes that the most important lesson she learned as
a Mercer student is that participation in activities can go
a long way towards success. "Statistically students do
better when they're involved, make friends, and have people
they can rely on to help them succeed," she observes.
She encourages students to stop by the office any time to
explore the possibilities.
Tatiana (Tarrasov) Dodge '10 (A.S., Elementary Education)
is the office's part-time administrative specialist. She also
attends Rider University on a full scholarship, pursuing a
double major in Elementary Education and English.
"Every day in the office is different. I feel like I
have the opportunity to be really creative here," Dodge
says, pointing to the floral arrangements she created for
the students' Valentine's Day celebration as just one example.
A 2005 graduate of Princeton High School, Dodge's decision
to come to Mercer was "a complete change of plans."
Originally set on attending art school, her priorities changed
when she started a family. Currently the mother of children
ages three, five and seven, she notes that Mercer's flexible
scheduling allowed her to work and attend classes at the same
time. "Mercer was just the right choice for me."
She even found time to be active on campus, serving as the
president of Kappa Delta Pi, the International Honor Society
in Education, and attending Student Government meetings. She
first became acquainted with the Student Activities Office
when she volunteered to help with graduation. When she saw
a position opening in the office, she immediately applied.
"I just felt at home in this office," she said.
"A big chunk of my heart was at Mercer, and I wasn't
ready to leave."
Dodge explains that MCCC has been part of her life since she
was a young child. She was often on campus as her mother pursued
three associate degrees from Mercer. She also recalls her
mother reading to her from her textbooks at bedtime.
Dodge is a huge advocate of starting college at Mercer. "A
lot of professors here are so enthusiastic about their area
of expertise. They teach here because they love their subject
matter." She says that Mercer ended up being "a
great place to find myself. I'm glad my plans changed because
I have had so many wonderful experiences here."
While Dodge's original goal was to teach elementary school,
she has fallen in love with the college environment and now
plans to earn her master's degree in English so she can teach
at the college level. "I definitely love working with
students and helping them find their path," she said.
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